Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Reviews - March 2014

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

When 12-year-old Willow Chase, a highly gifted girl, is orphaned a second time following a car accident, she is adrift in a world that doesn't understand her. Willow is taken in by a Vietnamese family that can barely provide for themselves and misses her parents, her organized space, her sanctuary garden, and her routine. She learns to reach out to those around her and creates a new family for herself, drawing unlikely people together in unexpected ways.

This is a lovely book about, as the cover so eloquently illustrates, swimming against the current. Written in sensitive multiple POVs, Counting by 7s is a story that embeds itself deeply in the heart. Willow and the family she makes, stay with you long after you close the book. My eleven-year-old recommended that I read it. I cried. Good recommendation, Calista!

Appropriate for all middle-grade readers and up.

Very highly recommended.

The Haven by Carol Lynch Williams

You all know I'm a big fan of dystopian. I'm one of those annoying people who would start discussions with, "Well, I liked ________ before it became popular," if I said things like that aloud anymore, which I don't. But I think it all the time. I loved the dystopian genre as a kid (The Giver, Brave New World) and I still love it. I don't tire of it, and I don't know that I ever will. So when I heard that Carol was writing a dystopian, I was very very happy. It was years ago that I first starting hearing about it, because I follow Carol's blog, and I waited with much anticipation for it to FINALLY be available.

Shiloh lives at The Haven, a care-center for Terminals, kids who are dying slowly from an unexplained Disease. As the Disease progresses, it leaves the teen residents of The Haven with only pieces of themselves, until in the end, they don't return from the treatment wing. The Disease is always fatal. The Terminals spend their lives in complete isolation, never glimpsing the world outside the wall.

The thing I love about Carol's writing is that she puts us in the body of the narrator. Through Carol's spare and efficient prose, we get to feel everything Shiloh does. This narrator spends a lot of time feeling disoriented, and so the reader experiences some of that as we follow her story, but in my opinion, this only contributes to the general creepiness of the book. Shiloh reads a bit younger than her years, but it works, considering her rigidly controlled environment and lack of certain stimuli to aid in emotional and psychological development. It also sparks an interesting ethical discussions for young and old readers alike. Some reviewers were frustrated with what they considered vague world-building, but that aspect of the story didn't bother me. I felt that the narrator was in a daze much of the time, and seeing  through her eyes made any lack of clarity regarding the specifics of the world very plausible to me.

Warnings on: General creepiness. There is nothing objectionable. I would actually recommend this book to my eleven-year-old, because she is mature enough to handle the creep-factor, and the prose is very accessible. If you are planning on purchasing this book for a young reader, but not planning on reading it yourself, you can message me and I can give you the lowdown on exactly what kind of creepiness we're talking about here.

Highly recommended.

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

So I adore this author's prose. It's so incredibly delicious. Taste this:

“I marvel at how good I was before I met him, how I lived molded to the smallest space possible, my days the size of little beads that passed without passion through my fingers. So few people know what they're capable of. At forty-two I'd never done anything that took my own breath away, and I suppose now that was part of the problem - my chronic inability to astonish myself. I promise you, no one judges me more harshly than I do myself; I caused a brilliant wreckage. Some say I fell from grace; they’re being kind. I didn’t fall – I dove.” ” 

Yeah. I know. Seriously.

I actually came to Sue Monk Kidd through her nonfiction, which is lush and gorgeous. Then I read The Secret Life of Bees, which is stunning. So I knew I would love The Mermaid Chair for the prose alone. The story is actually quite interesting, about a woman who begins to feel stifled in her safe and routine marriage. When she travels back to her hometown to care for her ailing mother, she breaks out of the mold into which she'd pressed herself, and begins the exploration to discover truths about her past and her future. A lovely and poignant and empowering book, plumbing the depths of devotion, self-examination, religious conviction, and relationships. One more quote, because I really can't do justice to Kidd's epiphanic writing:

“The mermaids came to me finally, in the pink hours of my life. They are my consolation. For them I dove with arms outstretched, my life streaming out behind me, a leap against all proprieties and expectations, but a leap that was somehow saving and necessary. How can I ever explain or account for that? I dove, and a pair of invisible arms simply appeared, unstinting arms, like the musculature of grace suddenly revealing itself. They caught me after I hit the water, bearing me not to the surface but to the bottom, and only then pulling me up.” 

Warnings on: sexual situations, language. Not appropriate for young readers.

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